The Islanders absolutely needed Game 3 but the Lightning really wanted to take that commanding 3-0 series lead and it showed. However, the Islanders were able to withstand the Lightning’s might and came away with a regulation win. We’ve got ourselves a series, folks.
Tampa Bay was without arguably their best player in Brayden Point, as well the suspended Alex Killorn and the out-for-the-series Steven Stamkos. So they weren’t working at full strength tonight; which made their periodic dominance tonight all that more intimidating.
But the Isles clawed their way to the end and didn’t let this one get to overtime. They finally started capitalizing on Lightning mistakes and got more than two past Andrei Vasilevskiy tonight in to prevent the series from getting away from them and they did what they needed to do.
Fitting, too, that Brock Nelson, who was a moving target for Tampa in Game 2, got the game-winner.
First Period: Fast-Paced Start
The Lightning smelled blood when they came out, really carrying the early run of play against the Islanders. They had some hops in their steps and Semyon Varlamov had to be sharp to keep them off the board in the beginning of the period. Slowly, though, the Islanders started to assert themselves.
A turnover chance down low in the Tampa Bay zone found its way to Mathew Barzal’s stick. If he was able to backhand it, I think it would have caught Vasilevskiy off-guard. However, he went for a pass into the slot—which, to be fair, if it worked, it’s almost certainly a goal. But not getting a goal there was unfortunate.
The Islanders continued picking up the pace, though, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau had a wide-open net down low that Vasilevskiy somehow got covered. The puck squirted loose and wound up out at the point with Ryan Pulock. Pulock glided down to the top of the face-off circle and let it go. Vasilevskiy made the initial stop but the rebound popped out the other way to Cal Clutterbuck, who fired it over Vasilevskiy’s shoulder.
Clutterbuck taking a trip to the TOY DEPARTMENT! pic.twitter.com/FS0cTVoa5o— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) September 12, 2020
Vasilevskiy was complaining that his pad came loose and it did, but as Brian Boucher explained on the broadcast, the officials are only obligated to blow it dead if the helmet comes loose. All other equipment is fair game.
Shortly after the goal, Barzal was sprung on a breakaway by Jordan Eberle and Barzal would’ve had him dead to rights if he was able to lift it. He was trying, but the puck rolled on him just enough that he wasn’t able to get all of his wood on it, instead hitting the stretched-out pad of Vasilevskiy.
That would prove costly, as shortly thereafter, Mikhail Sergachev sneaked around Clutterbuck, walked in and roofed a backhand over Varlamov. It was a great individual effort but Clutterbuck definitely lost his man.
Before the period was over, Blake Coleman forced a turnover against Adam Pelech and flew in on a two-on-one against Pulock. Varlamov made the save, but it was a dangerous chance that instilled some fear.
Second Period: Results Are What Counts, Right?
Luckily, our fears would prove unfounded, for the time being.
Anthony Beauvillier had a nice chance early in the second. A bad bounce on a clear for the Lightning landed on Brock Nelson’s stick at the top of the face-off circle and he shoved it over for Beauvillier. He cruised in from the point to let go a slapper but it missed the net wide.
Pelech had a nice dive to clear a puck away from danger in what would’ve surely been a Tampa chance with a lot of room. Other than the early Beauvillier chance Tampa Bay controlled play before the first commercial break.
New York got back on their feet a little bit when they came back from the break and, generating pressure and in between offensive zone sessions, Anders Lee drew a slashing call on Mitchell Stephens. The power play had a couple chances early but then struggled to enter the zone at all in the second half of it.
The Islanders, ironically, got the puck deep just after the power play ended and it led to some extended zone time that helped them get their mojo back. The Lightning nearly cleared the puck but Scott Mayfield knocked it down with his glove. The puck got around to Barzal along the boards and he dished it over to Pelech. Pelech sent it a couple feet to his right to Pageau and Pageau gave it right to Pelech for a blast that beat Vasilevskiy high-glove.
Pelech with his FIRST PLAYOFF GOAL pic.twitter.com/PQkqo3nEwF— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) September 12, 2020
While this was all going on, Lee and Cedric Paquette were battling behind and in front of the net. After the puck went in, Lee, clearly frustrated, dropped the gloves with Paquette and started swinging before tackling the French-Canadian Bolt to the ice.
Exactly two minutes later, Beauvillier finished a gorgeous play by Nelson. The two linemates entered on a two-on-two and Nelson was able to find some open space criss-crossing with Beauvillier—not enough for a shot, though. So he patiently carried the puck on his backhand behind the cage and as soon as he was past the outline of the net, he backhanded a pass to Beauvillier waiting in the slot. Beauvillier didn’t hesitate, falling to his knee on the one-timer that squeaked under Vasilevskiy’s blocker arm.
BEAUVILLIER— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) September 12, 2020
Before the period was out, Varlamov made four beautiful saves on two zone entries, stopping Patrick Maroon and a tipped Kevin Shattenkirk shot from the point on the first sequence. The Isles failed to clear and Nikita Kucherov took a shot off the rush that left a big rebound. The Tampa puck retrieval led to Kucherov feeding Anthony Cirelli and Varlamov made a big save, and stopped one more down low—I believe on Ondrej Palat.
Though the Islanders outscored the Lightning 2-0 this period, you could make a strong argument that Tampa was the better team throughout. But the Isles capitalized on some of their chances and Varlamov made some big saves.
Third Period: Nearly Another Backbreaker, but Then Some Heroics
Eberle took a holding penalty in the offensive zone to give the Lightning their first man advantage of the night and Tampa took advantage. Sergachev faked a shot and got it over to Kucherov, who fed it toward the slot. It missed Yanni Gourde’s stick but hit Palat’s and went in.
The Lightning were buzzing after the early power play goal and the game had that feel where it was only a matter of time before a Tampa Bay shot went in. Which is exactly what happened when Tyler Johnson got a stick on a point shot by Erik Cernak. The play was reviewed for a high-stick, and quite frankly, it looked like contact was made above the crossbar, but the call on the ice stood—meaning it was an inconclusive review—and the game was tied. Brutal.
But, the game was not over. The Islanders slumped a little after the tying Tampa goal but not for long and got back into the Lightning zone. A failed clear came to Josh Bailey and he passed over to Beauvillier. Beauvillier held onto it a bit too long before shooting into a Lightning defender. But he recovered the puck and swung around to send a pass cross-ice to wide-open Nelson. He got Vasilevskiy to over-commit and then painted the top-outside corner with one of his patented wrist shots to give the Islanders back the lead with less than 3:30 remaining. Sweet bliss.
BEAUVILLIER ➡️ NELSON ➡️ GOALLL pic.twitter.com/bDONZlsFAD— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) September 12, 2020
The Lightning threatened quite a bit over the rest of the game, and especially when they pulled Vasilevskiy, but Bailey was able to poke the puck to Pageau for an empty-netter with 35.7 seconds remaining. Sweet relief.
Kucherov was hooking him all the way, which would’ve been a penalty. Then, after the puck was let go, Kucherov gave Pageau a two-handed whack across the back of the legs. Pageau went after him for the infraction and a scrum ensued, leading to some early showers. On the next face-off, Matt Martin exacted revenge for Barclay Goodrow’s cross-check to Nelson’s head in Game 2 by beating the crap out of him.
Game 4 is Sunday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. EDT on NBC. The Islanders have a chance to even the series. Let’s keep it going. Win that one and we’ve got a tie series.